Jonathan Fryer

Coming to Terms with Genocide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd December, 2015

imageIn 1994, when Rwanda was seized with a killing frenzy, I was working for BBC World Service at Bush House in London, writing analysis pieces about what was going on. It was clear that the then government in Kigali was orchestrating the massacre, with the Interhamwe militia and later ordinary Rwandans taking part in the brutal slaughter, mainly of men, women and children of the Tutsi minority. Some brave souls did hide or protect potential victims, at great risk to their own lives, but others joined in the blood-letting, some under duress. Over a period of 100 days perhaps as many as a million people were slaughtered, many thousands of them inside churches where they had sought sanctuary. For three months the international community essentially stood by, until the French declared rightly that something must be done, and a force of Rwandan exiles from Uganda moved in. It was largely because of the Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu fanatics set out to exterminate the Tutsi just as surely as Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, that the Canadians, among others, worked out the theory of humanitarian intervention known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial 21 years later, earlier this week, I tried to come to terms with what drives people to instigate or participate in a genocide. The methods used in Rwanda were often sickening, as people were slashed to pieces with machetes or babies had their heads smashed against walls. Some victims were buried alive. What drives people to abandon their humanity in such an extreme way? Greed, envy and other deadly sins, certainly, but also fear, especially when the dreadful killing machine has started moving. Almost every family in Rwanda was directly touched by the genocide and many come to the gardens of remembrance at he Kigali Genocide Memorial to feel reunited with their loved ones, an estimated 259,000 are buried in the grounds. It is a calm, beautiful place for reflection, but I challenge anyone to come out of the exhibition halls, with their graphic photographs and moving video testimony of the bereaved, to emerge with a dry eye.

 

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